HOLD YOUR BREATH, PINCH YOUR NOSE AND DIVE HEAD FIRST INTO THE ABSURD WORLD OF THOMAS HOWARTH’S UNI CONFESSIONS.
‘Clocks go forwards tonight,’ Josie reminded me. She and Alex were off out. I registered with a wave of the hand. Night grew and I slept.
I woke up, but I wasn’t in bed. I was on the ground, lying under a scorching, blinding sky. Wind ripped sand across my face. I couldn’t open my eyes against the elements.
A woman’s voice came to me on the hot air. I turned my head and squinted, semi-blind. A troupe of figures, all in faded red cloaks, was advancing towards me. I tried to move but I was stuck to the spot. My limbs were heavy and my chest felt crushed, as if under one of the boulders that littered the area.
‘Lift him,’ one figure commanded. I was hauled into a sitting position.
‘Where am I?’ The desert stretched on to infinity. Pillars and arches of orange rock stood like trees.
‘Out of time.’ An elderly woman smiled as she passed me a flask. ‘Drink. It’s just water.’ They were all elderly women.
‘Who are you?’ Water splashed down my shirt.
‘We are the Sisterhood of the Lost Hour.’
‘The Lost Hour?’
‘This place.’ She gestured over the landscape. Pale clouds swirled across the red sky.
‘Where is “this place”?’ I rubbed my eyes. ‘Africa? Scotland?’
‘Not quite. It’s an interdimensional platform, there’s no meaningful geographical location.’
I looked from face to face. ‘Not on Google Street View, then?’
‘A topical reference?’ I nodded. ‘Ah, lost on us, I’m afraid.’
‘How long have you been here?’
‘How did you get here? How did I get here?’
‘Did you put your clocks forwards?’
Realisation dawned. The sun glared, lens-flare hot.
‘Right. The Lost Hour. What do you do, then?’
‘We help you. We see you through to the next change, and slip you back into the world. The clocks go back in… October, is it? Yes, the twenty-sixth.’
‘October? I’ve got to stay here for six months?’
‘It’s not our fault you didn’t put the clocks forwards. We’ll assist you in your survival and get you home as soon as is possible.’
The interdimensional months passed. The odd Metro newspaper fluttered through on a spacetime breeze, keeping me abreast of developments in the twin worlds of celebrity relationships and funny animals. I mined for water with the Sisterhood, furnished caves and patched clothes. I taught them the ways of my people, and they taught me theirs. As I became fluent in the subatomic language of quantum foam, they grew adept at beginner-level crosswords.
Lessons learned and mental abilities exchanged, we arrived on the verge of October the twenty-sixth. A portal opened in one of the rock arches.
‘That’s your stop,’ a Sister told me, smiling. I shook her hand warmly, a tear balancing in my eye. Wasted water in this arid world. I bade the women farewell and, clasping a desert sand-filled hourglass, a gift from the Sisterhood, I stepped through the doorway.
My bedroom. Dusty. I set down the hourglass and moved into the kitchen. Josie was eating breakfast.
‘Where have you been?’ she asked. ‘Not seen you in about half a year.’
‘Ah, yeah, that. Well, um, I was… I was in prison. Just for a bit. I went travelling.’
‘What? You were in prison?’ Cheerios dropped back into the bowl. ‘Or travelling?’
‘Uh, both. Yes. Scotland. I… I killed a sheep. By accident.’
‘That is classic you.’ She returned to her cereals. ‘Oh, have you seen Alex?’
‘Nothing, really. I went to get something from his room earlier, he’s just forgotten to put his clocks back.’